The cop, a burly man dressed in black, was enduring the midday
heat, sitting in a sagging golf cart, looking for lawbreakers,
when a visitor broke his reverie with a question. "Just out of
curiosity," the visitor asked with offending peppiness, "but
scalping tickets is illegal, isn't it?"
To the cop's left and right, behind him and in front of him,
there were men with signs in the air--TICKETS NEEDED--and wads
of cash in their pockets.
"So's jaywalking," the police officer said.
The intersection of Marietta Street and International Boulevard,
outside the Omni Hotel, has emerged as the scalpers' bazaar at
these Centennial Olympics. From time to time, the scalpers will
tell you, the area becomes heated. But for the most part, it has
been wide open. The cops have been gentle on the scalpers
because there have been no reports of blinkers (bogus tickets)
for sale. And among the buyers, there have been very few
chislers (aggressive bargain shoppers), which is good, because
chislers draw attention, which is bad. Most of the buyers have
been spenders, and the scalpers like doing business with
spenders. One scalper took a check--a check!--for four tickets
to the opening ceremonies. The scalper bought the tickets for
$1,400, cash, and parted with them for a $2,400 check. That's
Most of the scalpers working International are professionals,
traveling salesmen, believers in the power of the marketplace
and in the value of their profession. They can be seen at Super
Bowls, Indy 500s, major rock concerts. The workforce is all-male
but otherwise integrated. There are blacks, Native Americans,
whites, Asians working shoulder to shoulder, in the Olympic
spirit of cooperation. "You want judo?" a white scalper asked a
European spender. "See that black dude over there."
Of course, there's always one guy who has to louse things up for
the law-abiding. According to the scalpers, there's a fellow in
town, a former boxer, shaking down other scalpers. "He comes up
to you and says, 'Gimme 200 bucks,' and you've got to do it
because he's crazy," a scalper said.
Some of their activity is nearly legal. Georgia law allows the
resale of tickets, but for no more than face value, and a permit
is required to make street sales. Most of the tickets being sold
by scalpers are offered for face value or slightly higher.
Except for swimming, gymnastics and men's basketball, you can
buy tickets for just about any event at reasonable prices. The
scalpers make money because they have bought the tickets from
motivated sellers, ordinary visitors unable to attend the
events. The scalpers also buy tickets from major ticket brokers,
who are holed up in plush apartments with thousands of tickets
that they bought wholesale. How the brokers get their tickets is
a secret. They didn't win them in a radio contest.
Back on the streets, there's Moose and Minnesota Mike and
Knockout Pete and Jose from L.A. and a couple hundred others,
trying to make a living. Business has been O.K. Working
conditions are good. People are civilized. The opening
ceremonies were a gold mine, right up there with the Masters.
However, there are also tickets still available at ACOG outlets,
and it is common to see fans trying to unload at face value
tickets that they cannot use.
Many of the spenders are from overseas, unaccustomed to the
American entrepreneurial spirit, pleasantly surprised by what
they are finding. The scalpers carry schedules, explain how a
round-robin baseball tournament works, know the important events
from the duds. They give directions to venues. They make change.
"There's a nice spirit here," one of the scalpers says. He has a
Republican haircut, new sneakers, shorts with many pockets. "The
traveling guys are reasonable, and most of these guys are
travelers. They follow the etiquette. If a guy is making a sale,
you don't jump in there. You just don't do that."
A spender came along. The scalper said, "Let's take a walk." He
showed his wares underneath the lid of a garbage can. No sale.
Moments later, the scalper was back on International, trolling.
"I'm thinking about going to the swimming finals and diving," he
said. "I love swimming and diving."
COLOR PHOTO: ROBERT BECK "Spenders" and "chislers" shop the busy International Boulevard. [Ticket scalpers and their customers]